The months after Easter are a happy time to revel in all of Spring’s glory—but these are not halcyon days for everyone. Egg dyers watch their boiled masterpieces end up in salads; colonies of pastel-colored jelly beans grow stale in the fridge; and parents who bought bunnies for the holiday start to notice pee on carpets and computer cords chomped in two.
After cats and dogs, rabbits are the animals most commonly found in shelters across the country. This isn’t just a rural or suburban problem: New York City’s Animal Care and Control get about 200 of them a year. Most of them will make their way to the shelters—and often to the euthanasia room—in the next few months. (The photo at right is Tilly Bunny, a rabbit who is currently up for adoption in New York City).
Each Easter, pet stores load up with what they bill as “dwarf” rabbits to hand over to families wanting a real live holiday prop. Stores promise that they’ll stay tiny. “But they don’t stay small. Really, they are just infants,” explains Mary Cotter, the New York City chapter manager of the House Rabbit Society, a rabbit awareness and rescue group that has branches throughout the US. Frequently, they’re adopted by people that didn’t consider the commitment of taking care of a rabbit for its full ten-year lifespan. As they grow up, the kids lose interest, summer vacation rolls around, and next thing you know, Hopsy is brought to the shelter, or, more likely, the nearest public park. He’ll be fine—in fact, he’ll have a happier life in the wild, right? Sure. And maybe he’ll wear a pocket watch and have tea with the Mad Hatter.
“People release them thinking that they’ll find a good home in the great outdoors. Sometimes they make their way to a friendly person but more often than that they’re killed by dogs or predators or hit by cars,” says Elizabeth Berg, shelter manager of the House Rabbit Society’s headquarters in Richmond, VA. When they’re discarded in boy/girl pairs, they can have a litter of bunnies every 30 days. You know the saying.
These are creatures that aren’t as good at braving the outdoors as the thin hare-like brown things with long ears that you’ll often see on lawns. Domestic rabbits tend to be white or spotted with shorter ears. If you spot one of these near your home, the House Rabbit Society can talk you through how to trap it.
“Rabbits are excellent house pets,” Berg says. “They will learn to use a litter box. They’re quiet. They don’t demand a lot of extraordinary care. You don’t have to walk them. They’re good in apartments because they don’t need a lot of space to get out in. They’re happy in home situations.”
Petfinder.com lists more than 5,000 rabbits in need of homes. So what are you going to do with your new rescued bunny buddy?
You could have him open your envelopes—something rabbits enjoy doing whether or not you want them to. You could make him a therapy rabbit like China, the rabbit that visits at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center in San Diego. You could even make your own yarn—contact a spinners club near you (Interweave.com has a listing) to find someone to spin their fur for you (Jersey Wools, Fuzzy Lops, and the various Angora breeds all have fur that can be easily spun).
Most fun of all, you could train them.
Joan Orr and Teresa Lewin’s book, Clicking With Your Bunny, offers a beginner’s guide to using a handheld clicker and positive reinforcement to train a rabbit to do everything from walking on a leash to shooting hoops. “People think they’re not that smart, but when you start training them, you really see their personalities, likes and dislikes,” says Orr. “A lot of people train them to use a litter box. I’ve had people train them to walk on a leash or to sit on people’s laps. But you can also train them to put a ball through a hoop, or even do scent discrimination like dogs can be trained to do.”
Here are some of Orr’s amazing “Super Bunnies,” all trained with a clicker.